Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Oklahoma: Life Without Parole, The Yarbrough Case

CounterPunch is featuring an powerful article on the case of Larry Yarbrough, "a model prisoner" who is "in his 17th year of a life-without-parole sentence for a nonviolent drug crime." Later, this week, State Senator Connie Johnson will speak on behalf of Yarbrough at an Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board hearing. In 2002, the Board unanimously recommended a commutation of sentence, but former governor Frank Keating overturned the decision.

It is reported that, currently, 44 individuals are serving life without parole sentences in Oklahoma "for average drug crimes" but LWOP sentences "have not resulted in decreased drug trafficking." Instead:
they have committed Oklahoma taxpayers to paying $23,000 per year, per person (at present rates) to lock up a growing number of people for life. Taxpayers also are committed to covering prisoners' medical expenses (expected to triple) as they age, get sick, and die.
In addition to having never received a single "write up" during his incarceration, Larry Yarbrough "has received commendations from the Department Of Corrections and nonprofits for training guide dogs for the blind and disabled." He has been married after 41 years and has 5 children and 13 grandchildren. Before his conviction, he owned and operated "a popular BBQ restaurant in Kingfisher where he was known for giving back to his community."

CounterPunch notes:
These are tough times for state governments as well as most Americans. For these reasons, continuing to incarcerate Larry Yarbrough is very poor stewardship of our state's limited resources. According to Charles Savage of the New York Times in a recent article titled "Trend to Lighten Harsh Sentences Catches On in Conservative States," he points out that states fanned by the financial crisis, a wave of sentencing and parole reforms is gaining force as it sweeps across the United States, reversing a trend of "tough on crime" policies that lasted for decades and drove the nation's incarceration rate to the highest — and most costly — level in the developed world. While liberals have long complained that harsh mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenses like drug possession are unjust, the push to overhaul penal policies has been increasingly embraced by elected officials in some of the most conservative states in the country. And for a different reason: to save money.
See full piece here.

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